The Vancouver School Board is considering changing the names of two elementary schools.
How would you feel if your school was named for someone who was racist? Or someone who perpetuated violence against Indigenous people? Or someone who supported colonialism?
Yesterday’s heroes, who lived their lives under yesterday’s values, are being called out and shamed. Statues are toppling, and although it isn’t always comfortable, it’s part of progress towards a more equal society.
The Vancouver School Board is starting a pilot project to consider renaming schools when they are rebuilt or when the community initiates a change.
“These names were given 100 or so years ago – do they continue to reflect the values of the district today?” says VSB’s deputy superintendent David Nelson. “It’s an opportunity to make sure we have a really clear, transparent, fact-based way to assess whether or not our school names are ones we are proud to have and that reflect what we believe as a district.”
Two schools that are funded for full seismic replacement will be the first to go through the new renaming process. These are Marpole’s David Lloyd George elementary – named for an early 20th-century British Prime Minister – and Sir Matthew Begbie elementary – named for B.C.’s first chief justice, who was also known as the “hanging judge” for his sentencing of six Tsilhqot’in chiefs in a murder trial. The six men have since been exonerated and both the B.C. and Canadian governments have apologized for the executions.
Both schools have moved to the next step in the renaming process this week, when a VSB committee recommended the renaming decision go forward to the board later this month. The entire process will take a while and no suggestions for new names have been received yet.
“The renaming of a school building can trigger strong opinions and emotions,” the VSB report says. On the positive side, renaming could play an important role in reconciliation, Nelson said.
The two school principals have collected about how students, parents and teachers feel about the school names, Nelson said.
At David Lloyd George elementary, there was no real feeling of connection to the name within the school community, a VSB report says.
“Students did not express connection to the name nor knew anything about who the namesake was and so also expressed a lack of connection to and indifference to the name,” the report says.
At Begbie, feelings are a bit stronger, with parents in support of a name change.
“Overall – there were not strong feelings from school staff or the community about a connection between the name and the school identity. Parents felt more strongly in support of changing the school name than did staff,” the report says.
Also, the community is interested in having an Indigenous voice involved in the renaming process.
Assuming trustees approve the move later this month, the process of choosing new names would commence. Nelson said VSB policy suggests new names should be “place-based,” rather than named after people, but ultimately the choice of a new name would be up to the board.
If the pilot project is successful, other schools could also be renamed, either when a school is rebuilt, or when the community requests a change.
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